Most clinicians and researchers are aware that while memory loss is an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease its presence doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual has dementia. A recent research study has found that a clinically useful way to predict whether an individual will develop Alzheimer’s disease may be based upon their awareness of their memory problems according to a new study at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
The research found that people who were unaware of the loss of memory which is referred to as anosognosia were more likely to progress to a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry published recently. Those who are aware of their memory deficits were much less likely to develop dementia.
Unawareness and dementia
Dr. Philip Gerretsen, Clinician Scientist in CAMH’s Geriatric Division and Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute stated that “If patients complain of memory problems, but their partner or caregiver isn’t overly concerned, it’s likely that the memory loss is due to other factors, possibly depression or anxiety.” He also went on to state that “they can be reassured that they are unlikely to develop dementia, and the other causes of memory loss should be addressed.”
On the contrary, family members or caregivers are much more likely to be distressed when the patients do not believe they have memory problems while it seems apparent they do. This lack of awareness brings upon additional burdens to family members and caregivers. Both unawareness (anosognosia) and memory loss can be assessed objectively using questionnaires.
This study, believed to be the largest of its kind included data on 1062 people aged 55 to 90 years old from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. They also evaluated the brain’s uptake of glucose which is a type of sugar the brain cells need to function which seems to be impaired in Alzheimer’s disease patients, in order to identify which parts of the brain were affected in what has been referred to as “impaired illness awareness”.
PET brain scans show that those with “impaired illness awareness” also had reduced glucose uptake in specific brain regions even while factoring in additional factors such as age and degree of memory loss.
Future dementia research
In future research, Dr. Philip Gerretsen and colleagues will next track whether older adults with mild cognitive impairment receiving some type of intervention can prevent the development of Alzheimer’s dementia. This research will combine brain training exercises and brain stimulation using a mild electrical current to stimulate brain cells and improve learning and memory. While the main study will focus on dementia prevention, Dr. Garretson will also be assessing whether the intervention improves “illness awareness” along with preventing an individual’s progression to dementia.
Adapted by Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist from ScienceDaily.com article : Being unaware of memory loss predicts Alzheimer’s disease, new study shows.
Materials provided by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
1. Philip Gerretsen, Jun Ku Chung, Parita Shah, Eric Plitman, Yusuke Iwata, Fernando Caravaggio, Shinichiro Nakajima, Bruce G. Pollock, Ariel Graff-Guerrero. Anosognosia Is an Independent Predictor of Conversion From Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer’s Disease and Is Associated With Reduced Brain Metabolism. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2017; DOI: 10.4088/JCP.16m11367